Southern Scotch

Southern Scotch
After the Fall 2016

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Re-Reading: Those Beautiful Big Dipper Books

Recently I asked on Facebook if other readers had books they'd returned to over and over again. I'd been thinking, in fact, of nonfiction: especially books so dense in wisdom that a single reading is nowhere near enough. Our understanding of some books is too 'heady' and not in the blood or the bone. So we reread certain books to come a little closer to 'getting' what they teach, instead of a 'Yeah, okay' reaction. Or, another way of putting that:

My FB post attracted some interesting responses: from John Molloy's New Dress for Success to Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich, from a martial arts combat manual to a writing guide. Two readers voted for one book I know I've got to read: The Power of Now by Eckhart. With one exception we all agreed that some books be reading more than once...and some books can be revisited again and again through our lives.

But the one exception stunned me: This reader claimed that in his adult he has never re-read a book. He gets what he needs from a book, then moves on...and can recall influential passages from books he read fifteen years ago. The key phrases there would be getting all he needs from a book--and recalling influential passages.

Could anyone who's read The Prince, The Art of War or The Book of Five Rings--all tiny books on strategy--claim to really 'get them', in the most meaningful way, after just one reading? Limiting our sights to nonfiction, surely there's a huge difference between understanding something intellectually and having mastered the subject. I could write a detailed review or essay on Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich. Yet, after all these years, I still have miles to go toward mastery of its lessons.

I have a handful of life study books--and I find that when I return to them I bring something new to the table each time....and walk off with something new.

Expanding our sights now to fiction as well:

You know when you hear a piece of music once, you haven’t heard it properly, you want to hear it again. A well-made book will reward you in exactly the same way as music does, in that you will understand and love a piece. You’ll feel the cadence and depth of it and hear things in it all the time. If you pay it a little more attention, it will reward you, like all art. Like everything, actually.
--Ali Smith

A classic is a book which with each rereading offers as much of a sense of discovery as the first reading.
--Italo Calvino

Thou shalt not let a day pass without rereading something great.
--Stephen Vizinczey

Sunday, January 29, 2017

On Art as a Confidence Game

Today I sent the fourth Boss MacTavin mystery off for formatting. And I plan to launch it around March 1, to prepare for a radio interview scheduled for March 22. At the same, Hold Fast Press is preparing the first print edition of Southern Scotch...then The Alcatraz Correction...and on.

So, all in all, it would be natural for you to think that I'm dancing on Cloud 9.

Actually, though, I'm of two minds. Yes, I'm on that groovy cloud--and I'm also here:

All the old anxieties surface again as I prepare to begin the next book. Which of the several ideas in my head shall I go with this time? Is my mojo still in order? Do I have the energy for another grueling siege directly after the last one?

As always, the process begins with what I call a war book.

For weeks, or months, I'll fill my war book with assorted Q&A's about setting, themes, possible plot lines, characters, etc. In this particular instance, I'm considering a sort of spinoff on the MacTavin series--with one of his partners setting up a branch in Seattle, dealing with insurance scams and retail theft (the plot line in the last book).

Setting these occasional spinoffs in Seattle will spare me the need for location research. And finding a simpler style for the different narrator will allow me to write these more quickly. I hope.

The main thing is, it's question time. And there's stress but no failure at this point--except failing to ask enough questions. If the old process holds true, my confidence will begin to rise again.

One day like any other day I'll start to fiddle with opening lines, one of which seems right to me. And I'll soon feel an intolerable itch that compels me to start writing. Once I've started, there'll be no stopping, though I well know the murderous struggle ahead through draft after draft after draft.

No complaints. I love it all. The part of it, though, that's a confidence game is always a struggle for me. That said, let it begin again.

Yeah, let it begin today!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Then and Now...Or, Helloooooo, 2017!

Three weeks into the new year, I can't believe the difference made by 29 months and a cross-country move. These two years, I believe, will always stand out in my mind:


2014: Charlotte, NCk
  • A has-been author whose career had gone up in flames
  • Arrived in EbookLandia under a cloud of defeat
  • No real presence on Social Media
  • Job: third shift for close to the minimum wage
  • Out of shape
  • Lived in a grade C apartment
  • Felt trapped  in a city that I'd come to hate
  • Daily commute: 2-3 hours a day

Somehow I found the guts, the wherewithal and faith to do what needed doing: namely, at a rather advanced age, to pull off one last cross-country move. This time, I'd go to a place I'd never been but which fascinated. And I'd move with limited cash, no definite job and no idea where I'd live. Best of all, I'd move by train.

Departure: September 2014

2017: Seattle, WA
  • Author of 12 ebooks, a thirteenth coming in March
  • A strong sense of having found my writing A Game
  • Arrangement with Hold Fast Press for print editions of my Boss MacTavin mysteries
  • Am booked for a March radio interview
  • 1900 Facebook friends and 60,000 Twitter followers
  • New job, M-F, with full benefits and a decent salary
  • Regular workouts and a healthy diet
  • Living in a decent studio in downtown Seattle
  • Next up: a 1-bedroom apartment in my ideal neighborhood
  • Daily commute: a half-hour each way to work

And, hey, the year has just begun!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

W.A.R.! First Monthly Acid Reflux Report

The foe I thought I'd vanquished in skirmishes over the years came back in full force with the new year. And I was left prostrate and groaning in misery. But why? I hadn't done anything different. And I'd made some real lifestyle improvements.
--I'd quit drinking and smoking.
--I'd completely given up coffee, even decaf.
--I drank no carbonated drinks.
--I ate little meat, mainly chicken or turkey. A hot dog or a burger once or twice a year.
--I'd pretty much given up dairy.
--I was in decent physical shape.
--I avoided extra-spicy foods.

And yet, here it came bigger than ever. And I still didn't know what to call it. Indigestion? Heartburn?  Gastritis? (God forbid anything worse.) I began with the three things I did know:
--The attacks were worst at night, starting as soon as I climbed into bed.
--Then, when I turned from side to side, I felt...well, something moving within me. Liquid? Gas? Acid?
--Acid made a lot of sense since I'd come to realize that I could eat grapes, melons, apples without any discomfort--but citrus fruits hit me hard.

So...where would Google lead me on a search of acid + indigestion?


I was shocked to learn how many of the reported symptoms had my name.
--Violent attacks of hiccups.
--Combination hiccup-burps.
--Intolerance of high-fat and spicy as well as highly acidic foods (even those I loved the best: e.g. spaghetti, chicken parmesan...)
--Difficulty swallowing.

Seriously? Come on, now: how could recent hoarseness and the feeling of food being blocked in my throat possibly be linked to Reflux? 

Turns out the extra acid shooting back up the esophagus can splash the larynx and throat, damaging their tissues.

I had a choice to make and did not make it lightly. I could submit to a battery of ruinously expensive tests from a slew of specialists. Or I could declare W.A.R. (War Against Reflux), starting off with a stringent food elimination list.

At all costs I would avoid:


Coffee--regular or decaf
Tea, except herbal...and taken very weak
Acidic comfort foods: spaghetti, chicken parmesan
Processed foods
Any food after 5:00 p.m.

                        A Day in the New Life

As of 2:00 p.m. I've had:

1 cup of ginger tea

1 bowl of blueberry oatmeal

Two-thirds of a bottle of water:


And, just now while I write: Apple slices with wee dollops of almond butter.

At 3:00 I'll enjoy a small salad:

Then, finally, at 4:00, the last food I'll take for the day: a cup of Vegan, non-tomato-based soup:

Don't cry for me, Argentina--I plan to sleep like a baby!

This is my report.


Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Phone Call That Changed My Life

You may have believed you had limits...that turned out to be not as you'd thought. Today I'll tell you of one that I dealt with  and how it opened a door to new worlds.:

Over the years I'd developed a powerful aversion to phones. Powerful? I avoided them at almost all costs, preferring to send and get emails, even from family and friends.

Let me add one major qualifier: The last three jobs I've won came about from successful first phone interviews, lasting up to half an hour. So in a pinch, I knew, I could do phone business, even sound relaxed. But that isn't what I felt at all. I felt a lot closer to this:

I had a few reasonable grounds for my fear:
1) I felt more confident and relaxed in the other person's presence, believing--sometimes wrongly--that I could 'read' them more clearly.
2) I'd learned that on the phone smooth-talking agents or writers could unfailingly get me to say things or reveal plans far better kept to myself. And, with nothing in writing, I had no recourse if they chose to run with an idea.
3) I'd worked in three call centers, subjected to daily abuse...and the humiliating awareness that others were 'making their by numbers' while my job was always in peril. I'd come to believe they had better personalities or phone skills--when they were simply more manipulative and ruthless.
4) Silence on the other end compelled me to nervously blather.

My feelings about phones were best summed up in my notorious quip:
I hate cell phones. I've never been able to use one without wanting to shower with someone I loathe.

But something incredible happened this year. I struck up a Facebook friendship with Pam Stack, a well-known radio talk show host for authors online. At some point Pam dropped by my jaw by suggesting that I appear on her show. Immediately, I grew frantic. I wanted to do but couldn't--I thought. As it happened, though, I had a cold and she was facing throat surgery. So we had no way of talking for at least a month or so.

Even so, I agreed to do the show and began to prepare for it. First off, I needed to finish the fourth Boss MacTavin mystery and to put on a bit more speed than I felt sure I could. This I began to do. And, oddly, while Pam healed and I wrote with new passion for far longer hours, my confidence began to grow.

Well, the time came when we had to talk. It would be at once a friendly chat and perhaps an informal audition. How did I handle myself on the phone? Was I all talk and no listen? Was I warm and outward-bound...or cold and self-involved?  Did I stutter? Did I ramble? Did I have a high, squeaky voice?

The day came for our talk. So I dialed...and learned:


We ended up talking for nearly an hour. By the end of that hour I found I'd overcome my Telephonophobia.
--I didn't need to see Pam Stack to know that she cared about writers, a class including me.
--Nor did I need to see Pam to feel a burgeoning interest in her.
--Pam had no problem when I asked if we could steer clear of one thing on the show. And this taught me that I might have spared myself much grief if I'd known how to ask years ago: If you've already rejected my nonfiction proposal, why do you want more details on the platform-building part ? Or: If I tell you my age, will you tell me how often you and your lover have sex?
--The conversation with Pam was an adventure in spontaneity and harmony. The less I thought about what I'd say next, or worried about what she'd ask me, the more fun I had doing Stackphone.

Now I love my Samsung Galaxy Note 4.

And for that I thank Pam Stack and our upcoming interview. Further details TBA.

Monday, December 26, 2016

So Long to Surviving Christmas

It was another blue Christmas this year. But I smiled the instant I chose to not surrender: not to the blues and not to the sense that I had nothing to do.

Now, those who enjoy frolicking Yules, surrounded by their loved ones, might say my decision was easy. After all, I have plenty to do on any day of the week--so it's silly to get depressed on this wondrous, fundrous holiday because the movies tell me I should be having a heartwarming Hallmark occasion. And just one more 'after all', it's not as if I or anyone else is any more alone this day.

And yet it's not quite that simple. I have plenty to do--such as writing a book--but virtually nowhere to do it. You see, I belong to the creative species, Cafe Literatura. 


I write in cafes, always have, always will. Born this way, as Gaga sang. But on Christmas Day, pretty much everything's closed...except for a couple of Starbucks. I found two branches open: one completely filled with vagrants, not a table to be had...the other with drug dealers occupying both long counters, counting their money. 

I felt inconsolably blue, not because I was alone but because I couldn't do my thing in peace, the thing that makes me happiest. Worse, you must remember: 'Christmas' isn't just one day, it's actually three for Cafe Literatura. Cafes close early Chistmas Eve and some stay closed on the 26th. 

But, lo, what's this new state of mind?

I decided to go a movie, one in an upbeat location. The ritzy Pacific Place sounded good. But I still had three hours till show time. No sweat. I brought along my tea from the drug dealing Starbucks, along with a bottle of water, and marched to Pacific Place. Voila! On the mall's ground floor, outside the closed cafe, I found a slew of tables, surrounded by gurgling water and plants.

Before and after the movie, I worked......and had a productive, enjoyable Christmas. 

BUT for 2017...

I'll take what I learned this year and perfect my Christmas game. Strategy: a train trip beginning on the 24th and returning on the 26th, with a night's stop somewhere cool. Not just any train, either. I envision trips north and south on one of the best remaining trains:

Each Christmas will be adventure for me. So long to surviving the season.

Happy New Year to you all!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Down and Dirty: The Ultimate Round Table Joust: Part 2

Dedicated to: Pam Stack

Welcome back.

Four knights. One theme, of interest to writers and readers alike: the pros and cons of ebook and traditional publishing. The four knights, in alphabetical order:

Claude Bouchard
CB officially leaped into the writing world in 2009 and his Vigilante Series now boasts a dozen installments with more to come. In addition, he has penned Nasty in Nice, as part of the JET Kindle World, and ASYLUM, a standalone novel .

Leverett Butts
The author of Emily's Stitches: The Confessions of Thomas Calloway and Other Stories, and of Guns of the Waste Land, a series of novellas retelling the King Arthur legends as an American Western.  He lives in Temple, Georgia, with his wife and son.

Bill Kirton
Ex actor, director, voice-over artist, playwright, teacher, university lecturer. Now wood carver and writer of crime, historical, romance, satire, humour, non-fiction books for students. Also a gardener and lover of sport, sailing, good food and better wines.

David North-Martino
The author of Wolves of Vengeance and an ardent martial artist. His short stories have appeared in numerous fiction venues including: Epitaphs: The Journal of the New England Horror Writers, Wicked Tales: TJOTNEHW Vol.2 and Dark Recesses Press. 


6) Can you envision a scenario in which a traditional publisher handles some of your books which are easier to sell--while you write the books you choose to writes and publish some independently--as both ebooks and indie print editions?

Sure, why not? There have already been indie authors who have gone trad with the print versions of their work while retaining digital writes as well as trad authors who have decided to self-pub some of their works. Anything is possible if involved parties agree.

I think this situation would be ideal. If done well, both the traditionally and independently published books would feed off each other’s audience. It seems like a win-win for me.

Yes, the present context gives us that sort of freedom. On the other hand, I don’t go along with the assumption implicit in the question. When I write, I try to follow specific criteria. I want it to be a high quality, mistake-free product which entertains, absorbs, holds readers’ attention, makes them laugh and/or think and/or believe in my characters. If I succeed, all the books should be equally easy to sell. The element that brings quality and profit together is luck.

Absolutely. I consider myself a hybrid writer. I’ve self-published a short supernatural thriller in ebook form, and sent a 90k crime thriller to a contest at Minotaur books. I’m also writing a military horror thriller for a small press publisher on spec, and a sword and sorcery novella on spec for a Big 5 publisher. Hopefully I can finish these manuscripts before the open calls end. If not, self-publishing is always available, and I would never take it off the table. Also, I’m exploring the possibility of having a small press take over my self-published ebook and selling them the print rights. Probably a long shot, but worth checking into.

For those not in the know, the small press is a middle ground between indie and the Big 5. All publishing is fraught with peril, and you can get burned just as easily in the small press where there’s not much in the way of an advance, and the publisher is running on a shoestring budget. I’ve heard horror stories of writers getting their rights tied up in bankruptcy proceedings, but on the positive side, small press publishers handle editing, covers, assist with reviews, and there are some that have decent distribution to bookstores and libraries. There’s probably more opportunity in science fiction and horror, but it’s something to consider if you’d like to have a publisher invest in your novel but can’t land a Big 5 deal, want a lower bar for entry, or just more creative control.

7) Do you see ebook publishing as a stepping stone toward the Yellow Brick Road (superstar agent, humongous advances, etc.)...or, getting back to our first question, do you value things about it you'd reluctant to lose completely? E.g.: the power and the freedom of running your own business...the power that enables Russell (Titan) Blake to produce numerous best-selling thrillers a year?

I do see the possibility of indie publishing being a stepping stone to bigger things though it is not my specific goal. If approached with a lucrative deal, I would certainly consider it and, if it was viable, I would have no problem letting go some control. To illustrate, consider the following completely fictitious scenario:
Big Honcho Publishing House: Mr. Bouchard, we’re offering you twenty million dollars per title you have written plus a thirty percent royalty on all subsequent sales plus fifty percent of any revenues subsequently generated by television and/or film production.

Why not both? I do hope that my sales of indie-published books will one day open doors for me in the larger houses, but even if they don’t, I am happy with what success I have had so far. I certainly like having the freedom to try new forms such as the multiple narrators and points of view in Guns of the Waste Land and the interconnected stories making a single novel in the first part of Emily’s Stitches. I don’t think a traditional publisher would be comfortable with those experiments without proof they’d sell.

Stepping stone to fame?. No. Except insofar as, if any of my books is going to get me the goodies you brandish, it’ll probably be ‘discovered’ in ebook form, so they can clearly contribute. I hate ‘running my own business’, which I guess is what I’m doing, and I’d gladly hand all that over to someone who knows how to do it. Because I don’t.

I love the freedom that indie publishing provides, at least I like the idea of the freedom that it provides. I’m a very independent person, but I don’t enjoy going it alone when it comes to publishing. I would rather have a publisher, small or large, handle my work, buying it because they believe in it, instead of trying to do this all on my own. That’s something I wouldn’t have learned about myself if I hadn’t initially gone the independent route.

While I do look at indie publishing as a stepping-stone to bigger things, I also see it as a complement to a larger career. I’m very open to being a hybrid. I have no problem selling some books to the big 5, some to the small press, while putting out others independently. Let’s not forget that breakout books not only happen to the traditionally published, but also to independent authors. Just look at Andy Weir’s The Martian as an example.

8) Aside from your writing/editing/proofreading skills, what other skills do you regard as absolutely essential? And: are these skill sets really completely different from those required of traditionally published authors? (The days, for instance, are long past when any author can say, as one actually did: 'The hell with editing and proofing--that crap's for my agent and editor!')

A number of the skills which follow could be purchased from suppliers though it never hurts to have some understanding and knowledge in these areas even if contracting out. Formatting skills in order to transform a manuscript into both a print and digital final product; Artistic/graphic skills in terms of envisioning and/or creating appealing book covers; Social and communication skills to exchange with one’s potential and established audience; Marketing skills to let the masses know one’s work is available. Based on hearsay, I understand many trad authors must now put in more effort with the social/communication/marketing aspects than in the past.

Since self-publishing (and to a lesser degree small press publishing) requires you to wear many hats, you also need skills in self-promotion to help advertise and promote your work. A working knowledge of image editing software is not a bad idea, too, to help you design your covers. This last, if done well, can save you hundreds to thousands of dollars in design fees since you won’t have to commission a cover designer.

The basic essentials – writing, editing, proofing – are skills which are very distinct from one another, but nonetheless in the same ball park, depending on sensitivity to language, rhythm, etc. Promoting and marketing, on the other hand, call for a totally different mindset.

You have to be able to manage a project with multiple contractors in your employ. You might have to have formatting skills in multiple formats unless you’re going to hire someone to do it. You might need to have the ability to create your own covers, unless you want to pay to have them commissioned. You’re going to have to have confidence to reach out to other writers and reviewers without having a publishing house behind you. You might not get much in the way of publicity from a traditional publisher, depending on how much for resources they’ve devoted to you, but as an indie you have to either be your own publicist, and do everything yourself, or hire one.

9) Whatever your long-term goals, what are the greatest kicks you get from producing both ebook and print editions?

The beauty of the ebook is its immediacy and range of distribution.. Anyone, almost anywhere on the planet can download it and boom, it’s there waiting to be read. As an author, holding an actual print copy, flipping through the pages and knowing I produced it, is pretty cool. As mentioned earlier, the effort required to create a print version is so minimal that it would be silly to not do so, even if it’s to satisfy a small number of readers. True story, a fan who only reads print recently inquired about the next installment in my series, mentioning she had already reserved a spot in her display case. That’s a kick.

The flexibility of having a choice. I find myself preferring to read hard copy at home and electronic versions on the road. I assume most people who are open to e-books feel the same.

Feeling, every time I receive a proof copy of a paperback, as if the nurse has just handed me my beautiful new baby. That’s a sensation ebooks can’t replicate. There’s also the basic satisfaction of having overcome my laziness again and actually finished a book.

I haven’t produced a print edition of my novel, but I did enjoy managing the ebook to completion. I’m just not sure I’d want to do it again.


10) Rogue Question: What have I missed that's important to you?

You didn’t ask, “Boxers or briefs?”...and now you’ll never know.*
(Editor's note: Under serious pressure, Claude Bouchard agreed reluctantly to give an appropriate answer to the eternal question. You'll find it at the * below.)

What's the biggest draw to writing? 
For me it's the same thing that drew me to the craft in the first place: I generally write stories that I cannot find elsewhere, and I love being able to tell myself a story. I never cease finding it odd that even as the author, I’m never sure where the story is going, so it’s almost like I’m reading a new novel every time I write. Like the novel is there in the ether fully formed and waiting for someone (in this case, me) to catch and trap it on paper.

What's the letter or email I'd love most to get?
‘I’m thinking of investing several thousand dollars in promoting a friend’s books in the UK, USA, Canada, the Caribbean, South America, New Zealand, Australia, and parts of Africa and Asia. Would you like to be that friend?’

What are the best and worst things when it comes to self-pubbing ebooks?
The worst thing about self-publishing ebooks is that your work gets lost in the vast sea that is Amazon. You have the best distribution on the planet, and yet, it can be very challenging to find an audience. Then again, the best thing: it will never go out of print and has an unlimited amount of time to find an audience.


*As promised, here's the answer Slyboots tried to keep from you. Really, was it too much to hope that Claude Bouchard might confess if he wears briefs or boxers?

Well, we're happy to give you the answer today from Claude Bouchard himself:

"If your readers have to know, the answer is simple enough:

I wear b----s."

To learn more about these four authors and their books, just click on the following links: 

Claude Bouchard
Amazon Author Page:
Vigilante Series Box set - Books 1 to 6

Leverett Butts
Grand Central Review:
Author Facebook Page
My Amazon Author Page:

Bill Kirton 
Amazon Author Page
Best intro to his work:

David North-Martino
Amazon Author Page: